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Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Established Companies Flock to MIE 415 Looking for Real-world Design Solutions

SteelBlade portable blender attachment

SteelBlade attachment

The Senior Design Capstone course in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department – called MIE 415 or “The Design of Mechanical Systems” – has made a quantum leap in the number of sponsored projects its students are working on this semester. This required course for every MIE senior, which is designed as the zenith of the entire undergraduate engineering education for every student in the department, currently features 13 industry-sponsored projects introduced by 10 sponsoring companies in need of creative, practical, and economical mechanical designs from our budding engineers.

The sponsored projects include every kind of sophisticated invention from a revolutionary new electric blender to a chair attachment that acts as a security and alarm device to protect anything left on that seat.

During each semester-long, three-credit Senior Capstone Design course, entrepreneurs, startup companies, established companies, and government agencies sponsor teams of talented MIE students to answer the worldwide call for new mechanical devices of every kind.

“We originally reached out to UMass Amherst for their excellence in finite element modeling and analysis,” says Rob Olney, the president of ETM Manufacturing Company. “In working with the team, I was impressed with their interest in not only completing the analysis, but addressing our customers’ needs for lower cost and improved durability. The result was a strong report and presentation that should reduce costs by $34 per part (or $40,000 per year) and reduce return rates to nearly zero. I would recommend sponsoring a senior design project to any Massachusetts OEM interested in providing real-world experience and getting real-world results.”

In the past, this productive collaboration between MIE students and their sponsors has created such amazing devices as a robotic arm for a disabled child to a collapsible mobile tower for the U.S. Army. Our mechanical engineering prodigies have been sponsored by such well-known organizations as Yankee Candle, Ken’s Foods, BETE Fog Nozzle, the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command, and the National Science Foundation.

But this semester signals a whole new level of cooperation between private sponsors, on the one hand, and our talented MIE students, on the other.

“This is a quickly growing segment for our course,” says Professor Bernd Schliemann, one of the faculty members teaching the spring classes in MIE 415. “And Eric Crawley (resident entrepreneur in the college’s Career Planning and Student Development Office) has helped us greatly in making connections with them. So we now have 10 sponsors for a total of 13 projects. We typically have only three to five sponsored projects per semester.”

This semester Schliemann is co-teaching MIE 415 with MIE Department Head Sundar Krishnamurty, while Professors Frank Sup and Ian Grosse have also taught the course in recent semesters.

“The introduction of interdisciplinary projects into our senior capstone design course has been a great success connecting mechanical engineers with students from nursing, kinesiology, and electrical engineering,” says Sup. “These projects have been supported through industry sponsorship, a grant from the National Science Foundation, and faculty sponsorship outside of engineering. To deepen the learning experience for these teams we are introducing a two-semester option for the senior design course starting in the fall of 2017 where student teams have the opportunity to tackle more extensive and technical projects. Our first year-long interdisciplinary teams will be formed with agriculture, electrical engineering, and marketing students, and will attract other majors as needed to meet the objectives of each specific project.”

These sponsored projects are perfect for the goals of MIE 415. The scope of the course extends from engineering specification of devices, assemblies, components, and processes to the evaluation and refinement of mechanical systems. Fundamental concepts involved in mechanics, finite element analysis, probabilistic design, and optimization are also covered. The senior design project includes identifying customer needs and generating design specifications, design innovation and concept generation, design decision making, engineering analysis, prototyping, reporting, and oral presentations.

The goal of the capstone design course is for students to apply their full engineering and general engineering education to a new and important problem which is amenable to an engineering solution and present their results. The course develops and refines students’ abilities in this context by planning and organizing a term project, evaluating design alternatives with supporting engineering analysis, applying appropriate engineering standards, assessing and optimizing designs from the customer perspective, and presenting final designs.

The sponsored projects this semester are already propelling our seniors into the real world of designing mechanical systems for authentic entrepreneurs and companies with real-life needs, demands, and expectations. Each project is a giant step into the future career of an engineer.

For example, the SteelBlade company was conceived in a Springfield College dorm, and now the fledgling startup wants our UMass students to help design a groundbreaking (or, in this case, fruit-crushing) portable blender capable of incorporating a fruit infuser, a carbonation attachment, and other amenities into the blender bottle, all through detachable bases.

Meanwhile Treaty LLC., a biotech startup, has a couple of critical needs to fill with two different sponsored design projects. The company manufactures a biodegradable anti­fog coating called FogKicker that can be applied to glasses, goggles, bathroom mirrors, car windshields, and other surfaces. First, Treaty needs a machine that will accurately and efficiently fill its FogKicker bottles with the product’s formula on the assembly line. Furthermore, the company requires a device that will hold glasses and goggles in place at trade shows and in shops while FogKicker is being demonstrated to potential customers.

Another startup outfit is asking our seniors to create a weight-monitoring chair attachment, containing an alarm system and ID scanner, which can act as a security system for personal items left on the chair. The device can set off a loud alarm to alert the user when any item is removed from the chair.

Other sponsors looking to upgrade their enterprises with the help of our up-and-coming senior engineers are Altenew paper crafting products, Smith & Nephew, Berkshire Group, Quabbin Wire & Cable Company, and Get a Grip Fitness.

The Senior Capstone Design course gives MIE students a clear, hands-on understanding of real-world engineering problems and solutions. It’s win-win for everyone concerned. A tax-deductible sponsorship of $5,000 can help create the next generation of world-class engineers, while in return the sponsoring company receives the creation of a special product to answer one of its critical needs. It’s a match made in engineering heaven.

To submit a proposal or for additional information on sponsorship, please contact Schliemann at bfschlie@umass.edu or (413) 545-6251. (February 2017)